Desert Trip brought out the boomers, but its appeal was ageless

Yes, the baby boomers were out in force for the Desert Trip music festival over the weekend in Indio, Calif.  And no doubt those attending this latter-day gathering of the Woodstock tribe heard plenty of the one-liners levied at the event.

The fest’s unofficial nickname — “Oldchella” — was a well-worn punchline by the time the music began. 

“No age jokes tonight, all right?” said 73-year-old Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger shortly after taking the stage Friday with longtime bandmates Keith Richards, 72, Charlie Watts, 75, and Ron Wood, 69.

Letting a beat pass, he announced, “Welcome to the Palm Springs Retirement Home for British Musicians.”

Indeed, the average age of the Desert Trip rock stars is 72.The bill, which will repeat next weekend, also includes Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, the Who, Neil Young and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters — presumably the first and only time such rock titans will share the same stage. 

But don’t look at the event, organized by Goldenvoice, the promoters behind Coachella and its country cousin Stagecoach on the same site, simply as a celebration for rock fans navigating their golden years. Such a view, attendees argued, discounts the cross-generational and multicultural appeal each act has developed over careers collectively tallying more than 300 years.

“I’ve been hearing this music since I was a kid,” said Christian Dinh, a 24-year-old Vietnamese American who’d flown in for the weekend from Pensacola, Fla. “I just love rock ’n’ roll. I love new music too, but l also love the old music. This is music that people are still going to be listening to 100 years from now.”

In fact, the average age of Desert Trip ticket buyer was 51, according to officials for the L.A.-based concert promoter Goldenvoice, with a healthy percentage of millennials and other young adults taking in the event.

Brothers Alvaro and Fernando Obregon, 28 and 25, respectively, journeyed from their home in Tijuana for the show, with Waters’ performance on Sunday at the top of their priority list. 

“I think music moves the world,” Alvaro said, “and this music is from a time where so many important things were going on worldwide.”

Miki Stevens, a 17-year-old from Rialto, credited her mother, Wendy, 52,  who was by her side over the weekend, for igniting her passion for the Desert Trip artists.

“I think this music is better than today’s music,” Miki said while strolling an expansive exhibit of vintage photos of the show’s featured acts, a draw for the images themselves as well as for the air-conditioned tent that housed it, which offered a respite from the triple digit heat before the sun set each evening.

Desert Trip promoter Goldenvoice sold the bulk of the 75,000 passes for both weekends within five hours of putting them on sale in May. The promoter stands to gross about $160 million, making it the most lucrative music festival ever. Billboard estimates the cost of producing the show at upward of $100 million.

Although many fans were trekking to Indio in hopes of revisiting the glory days of rock music, the acts they’d paid top dollar to see were still doing impressive business.

Since 2000, the Rolling Stones have grossed more than $1.1 billion with their periodic tours, according to Pollstar, the concert-industry-tracking publication. McCartney has racked up $761 million, Waters has pulled in $592 million, followed by Dylan ($293 million), the Who ($200 million) and Young ($153 million). 

That’s a collective $3.1 billion in ticket sales.

Festival organizers dramatically revamped the grounds at the Empire Polo Field for Desert Trip, erecting three-story high grandstands on either side of the field immediately in front of a massive stage the size of a football field.

In front of the stage, an open pit accommodating about 1,500 people — for which tickets cost $1,599 for the three-days — came between the performers and an extensive rows of chairs. There was seating for about 35,000 Desert Trip-goers with a general admission lawn area behind the well-padded chairs.

A gargantuan video screen behind the stage magnified the performances with high-definition visuals to let fans in lower-priced areas in on what was transpiring. Additional screens carried the action to other parts of the expansive polo field grounds.

Desert Trip didn’t escape the occasional glitch. Traffic snarled for concertgoers heading into and exiting the Empire Polo Club.

There appeared to be technical difficulties with the massive video screen behind the stage in the early going, as live images of Dylan and his band were replaced for much of the set by vintage film footage of urban traffic, nature scenes and other images. Auxiliary screens farther back appeared to function better.

Ticket holders expressed a predictably wide range of reactions, from gripes about the traffic, the efficiency of shuttles transporting concertgoers from area hotels and the performances.

“Dylan [stunk] — he didn’t play many of the songs we all came to hear,” said Tim Cromwell, 60, from Costa Mesa.

On the flip side, Danny March, 57, of the San Fernando Valley, said of the same performance: “Dylan was the best I’ve ever seen him, and I usually don’t like Dylan.”

The well-heeled among the crowd were offered food options including high-end pop-up restaurants, a “culinary experience” area (admission: $179 for all you could eat and drink) and prix-fixe gourmet meals. 

There was another obvious difference between the Desert Trip audience and those attending Coachella and Stagecoach: fashion.

At the latter two, festivalgoers appear bent on outdoing one another with their fashion choices. Coachella fans, for instance, regale themselves in Grateful Dead-by-way-of-Rodeo Drive outfits, and boots and Stetsons populate the Stagecoach scene. 

For Desert Trip, the crowd was dressed more for comfort than to impress, seeming to embody the refrain of one of Dylan’s latter-day songs, “I used to care...but things have changed.”

So, despite some high-class flourishes, which were a long way removed from the counterculture from which these artists sprang, there was little distraction from the main attraction.   

“I think these artists embody why music festivals started,” said Aimee Sloan, 35, of Culver City. She has attended the Coachella Music and Arts Festival twice, as well as Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn.

“The music they have is inspiring...It’s the music that started all of the other offshoots of [rock and pop]  music,” she said. “I think they represent a different time, when music was there to bring people together, to inspire people.”

randy.lewis@latimes.com

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